Foreword 2011: From Findhorn to Catholicism
Recently, I have begun serialising a long letter (the first part is here) originally written to old New Age friends of mine back in 2005.
Traditional Catholic readers of this weblog could be mystified by my approach here.
In “Talking to the New Age” I found it necessary to speak in a very different way than I usually do at this weblog in 2011.
By the same token, New Agers have been mystified by what I suggest in this 2005 missive.
Do I not realise that Catholicism is hopelessly “Old Age”, atavistic, retrograde, Piscean rather Aquarian?
Surely after dedicating my life to Findhorn and the like, I ought to know better?
How could I retreat into the “safety and security” of a “belief-system” again? And such a “rigid, judgmental, legalistic, hierarchical, patriarchal, dogmatic, exclusive-sectarian” one at that?!
Sensing such questions coming towards me, I felt it necessary to give some account – albeit very inadequate – of my conversion experience.
For this I needed to insert a little autobiography, which is what follows now.
From 2005: On Becoming a Convert
For those who do not know me well, my spiritual journey began at Findhorn – which many would see as the planet’s leading centre for New Age culture, and at which I arrived for the first time in 1980, age 16 …
It was also at Findhorn that I was greeted with an amazing quality of love by William Bloom. After Findhorn, I came with an ex-partner to Cambridge to establish a registered charity with William’s assistance, – an open ‘drop in’ centre in the heart of this ancient European centre of learning, which also ran numerous workshops and lectures dedicated to “holistic” spirituality.
In those years, we distributed over a hundred thousand programmes containing words from my own pen – which proudly proclaimed our mission was to present spirituality in
a way hitherto rare, free of all belief systems, dogma and sectarianism [Italics added].
As time went on, many problems developed in this project.
And I began to realise that some of our problems stemmed from fundamental contradictions inherent to our claim of not having a ‘belief system.’
For in fact, we were operating from some kind of belief-system in Cambridge. Even if our belief-system may have been less organised than that of religion – by the same token, it was also at least potentially less conscious than a more organised system.
Thus, a Muslim who knows her belief system is organised by and derived from the Koran, may be much more conscious of her beliefs than a New Ager with a vague set of beliefs, whose origin is not clearly known.
This lack of consciousness, I now believe, lay at the root of many of our problems in Cambridge.
I now see this as a fundamental problem common to both the New Age and ‘politically correct’ secularism – the claim that they are either free of beliefs and ideology or are free from imposing their ideology on others.
I fear their unconsciousness about their ideology may end up in more being imposed on people, rather than less.
Yes, the problems I now see in the denial of possessing a belief system account for some of my concern that “Holism” – genuinely noble in intent – may be more destructive than is realised by those who aspire to it.
But there are other factors to leaving behind the New Age, as well. The most important one of all follows.
What follows is a faltering attempt to describe my conversion experience – which truly stems from an interior experience that happened to me abruptly and unexpectedly one night in September 1997. As a result of this experience, I would be baptised as an Anglican six months later and two years after that confirmed Catholic.
The experience then is literally one of tremendous personal significance – the turning point of my entire life, in fact.
It is not easy to do justice to such experience in words. And looking back at these words from 2005, I see how miserably inadequate they are. I hope I have succeeded better in my upcoming book Cor Jesu Sacratissimum. Still with editing and a few minimal changes, I let my words from 2005 stand.
In September 1997 at the age of 33, I had an experience unlike anything I had ever had in long years of meditation. In an intimate moment with Kim, the woman who is now my wife, I now believe that I encountered Christ. I did not have a vision. Nor did I sense a personality.
But I realised that an entirely new quality had become present that could change my life forever … I stood up as if in a daze and said: ‘I feel as though I am in a new world’. In a daze, I wrote in my journal less than an hour later.
18th September 1997 10:57 pm
Tonight with Kim I felt something I have never felt before … I felt something that, if I were really to feel it, would give me so I felt – all I want … so that by being filled by this, I would thirst no more. It felt as though the lack of this [very special quality] has been the source of all the longing and all the difficulties, and that the fulfillment of this [ie, to really take this in] would be the end of all neurosis …
It was so subtle … I don’t know what it means, but it feels if I am in touch with it, I will have what I need. If I am not in touch with it, I will seek and seek … for all manner of things. I need to be in touch with this, and for this I need to give, commit myself. More. Mystery. I feel like I am in a new world.
The next day I wrote:
I feel like I am still in the aftermath of something very, very special … I am entering something else with Kim, with Earth, with life – something other than I have ever known.”
That same day Kim and I were engaged to be married. But this engagement, profound as it was, was part of something even greater. I saw it was to do with Christ.
My engagement to her involved a personal quality of engagement, commitment, marriage to the world – incarnation in the world – that was, in my own tiny, tiny fallen way, correspondent to the Way of Christ. It was a following of the Way of Christ.
Christ had incarnated into and had married the world. Christ had offered us all a new way to relate to the world.
Once more: my words are far from adequate here. It may make them clearer, if I suggest that before Christ, much religious enquiry had been dominated by an aloof, detachment from the world. One finds this in the East. One finds this in Plato and the Greek Stoics.
To this pre-Christian mindset, it was inconceivable that the Word could become flesh – truly HUMAN. The idea that God could so love the world that He might fully enter into it and identify with it was unfathomable.
Of course, such incomprehension before the Mystery of Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice on Calvary did not simply evaporate with the coming of His Church. Many were the docetics and gnostics who continued to maintain the same attitudes that had dominated the pre-Christian era.
In my New Age life, I had a deep interest in the gnostics and skepticism of the Church. As clumsy as they are, my words about a “tiny, tiny, fallen” correspondence with the Way of Christ mark the death-knell for my gnosticism.
From that point onward, I would be re-oriented from an aloof, gnostic detachment from the world towards an ever-more Christian engagement with the world.
I still have a long way to go of course, but by the Mercy and Grace of His Most Sacred Heart, this death-knell for my gnosticism (and New Age-ism) was first sounded in September 1997.
Now this singular event in my life did not happen in isolation. In fact, it was part of an interior process of several weeks, in which I felt a very special mood.
What happened this September night then, was a culminating experience of the unusual ambience I had been with for some weeks.
Now there is something else I need to stress about these weeks of feeling this ambience – and that is that they happened in a certain context.
That context was the Church – and a peculiar interest I had suddenly developed in it, for the first time in my life.
This is significant, I say, because while countless New Agers proclaim the irrelevance of the Church, except as a safety mechanism, it is important for me to emphasise that the decisive spiritual event of my life happened within its context.
The exact order of events is no longer clear in my mind.
But I know that during this time, I had actively participated in a Catholic Mass, for the first time in my life.
Not taking the transformed bread and wine, I instead received a blessing from the priest. Laying his hand on my head, he blessed me “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.
Something shot through me and I was palpably, palpably different for the rest of the day. Or even for the rest of my life …? Who knows?
I also know that I received the influence of the Church, simply through beginning looking at its literature seriously, again for the first time ever. I spent a long time with a standard, ‘exoteric’ Catholic textbook. I recall feeling shocked. I had grown up knowing nothing but a caricature of Protestant Christianity …
Yes I was shocked by how different, even ‘ordinary’ Catholicism was from this.
And this is why I wish to say clearly to my non-Catholic friends (particularly in the secular countries of Protestant heritage): “Though the Catholic Church is hardly perfect, I fear your understanding of it is as woefully deficient as my own was. In fact I would hazard a guess, that even for many of the most educated of you, 75% of what you think you know about Catholic Christianity – simply isn’t true.”
To be Continued …
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